The first time I saw Lake Como, I was completely blown away at the beauty and magnificence. I hadn’t even heard of Lake Como prior and could not believe how pretty it was. It was one of the first places I visited when my now-husband was showing me around his home country.
Lake Como is huge and full of beautiful things to see. There are so many different towns to visit. On this list, I include the five best towns to visit along Lake Como with information on visiting each. No matter where you decide to go around Lake Como, you will see so many beautiful things!
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*****Everything in this article is my personal opinion and experiences. Check your own resources and choose to do anything I discuss at your own risk. Some of the things in this post may be dangerous and not recommended for every body.
About Lake Como
Lake Como is located in northern Italy on the cusp of the Alps. It is the third largest lake in Italy and is the shape of an upside-down “Y”. In Italy it is referred to as “Lago di Como” (lago=lake in Italian). The area has been inhabited for thousands of years and was especially popular with the Roman Empire. There are famous villas and resorts all along parts of Lake Como. The lake is surrounded by gorgeous mountains and is very close to the border with Switzerland.
Where is Lake Como?
Lake Como is located around 50 kilometers above Milan and is accessible in several different ways.
How to get to Lake Como?
The best way to get around Lake Como depends on where you are coming from and where you would like to go. If wanting to visit different places around the lake, having a car is a good idea, however it can be really difficult to find places to park, especially in the popular touristy towns.
If renting a car in Italy, I recommend using Booking.com as it often gives the cheapest rates and allows free cancellation in many situations.
Traveling by train is a really popular and affordable way to travel around Italy (and Europe in general). If you are coming from any major city around, you could take the train to the towns of Lecco or Como.
If leaving from Milan, you can leave from one of Milan’s main train stations: Milano Centrale or Milano Porta Garibaldi. Both stations have trains that reach Lecco or Como in around an hour. The major train company of Lombardy (the region of Milan and Lake Como) is Trenord. Tickets can be bought on the Trenord website or in person at a ticket kiosk. I personally think it is easier to buy the tickets online so that you can know all of the details without any possible translation issues and can make it to the station in time.
Once you make it to Lake Como, there are various options for transportation around the lake via boat. Some boats can take you across the lake or to various points throughout Lake Como. The main ferry group that can take you all over the lake is Navigazione Laghi Traghetto (traghetto=ferry in Italia). There are multiple places around the lake where you can board the ferry. Tickets and routes can be seen on their website.
I personally have taken the ferry from Villa Carlotta to Bellagio because it is easier to park at Villa Carlotta than in Bellagio.
There are also private boat tours that can give you an experience of a lifetime touring the lake. One popular company that gives private boat tours is Como Classic Boats.
Where to stay at Lake Como?
There are tons of places to stay. Where you decide to stay really depends on your budget, towns you plan on visiting, and what activities you plan on doing. In general, there are hotels in the main towns on the lake. If you are looking for a luxury stay or have a large budget, it would be a really neat experience to stay in one of the historical villas. If looking for a unique stay, but have a smaller budget, there are a ton of beautiful AirBnbs with lake views.
How many days do you need to spend at Lake Como?
There are so many things to do at Lake Como. Depending on the length of your trip, you could spend one day at Lake Como or you could spend 2 weeks and not even scratch the surface of all of the things to do.
When should you visit Lake Como?
Lake Como is beautiful all times of year. Summer is the prettiest time of year with bright sunny skies, delicious gelato, and deep blue water. However, summer is full of tourists.
In the winter, it is also gorgeous with the surrounding mountain peaks covered in snow, twinkling lights, and holiday markets. Winter is nice to visit because there are very few tourists, but it can also be cold and dark.
Spring tends to be rainy and is probably the worst season to visit.
However, regardless of what time of year you visit in, it will be beautiful.
Five Towns to Visit at Lake Como
Lecco is my favorite town to visit around Lake Como. It is on the southeast side point of the lake. It is a larger town with many things to do. Since the town is on the whole southeast side of the lake, there is a long paved pathway where you can walk along the lake for a long time. There are nice places to relax and great eateries.
Places to go in Lecco
This is a nice park along the lake with gorgeous views. It is especially nice at sunset with beautiful colors reflecting onto the water with mountains in the background.
Piazza XX Settembre
This is the main plaza in town with frequent events, outdoor dining, and Christmas markets in the winter.
This is an old tower from the middle ages located near the main piazza.
This is another popular piazza in town with concerts and events throughout the year.
Monument of the Fallen
This is a famous monument along the waters of Lake Como memorializing those who died in World War I.
Walk across the bridge Ponte John Kennedy to the lakeside town of Malgrate. From here is there is a great view of the town of Lecco with the lake. Check out the gelateria (gelato shop) named Tato Gelato, which is some of the best gelato I’ve ever had.
Some great cafes to visit include ArteSapori Pasticceria, Bar Pasticceria Centrale (a classic historical pastry shop), and GROM Gelaterria (a chain gelato shop that has really good flavors).
Como is probably one of the most (if not the most) visited town along Lake Como. It is a popular destination that many tours and groups end up visiting. Because of this, even though it is gorgeous, it tends to be touristy and more crowded than other towns along the lake.
Things to do in Como
Walk along the lake
The whole town of Como wraps around the lake and therefore there are lake views from all around the perimeter of the town. There are several parks to choose from, so I recommend walking around the waterfront parts, closest to where you are visiting in the town.
Take a boat ride
While you can take a boat ride from most of the places on this list, Como has the widest variety of options and price-points for taking a boat ride on Lake Como. I discuss above some of the boat options. There are all different types of boat experiences ranging from a ferry to a dinner cruise to a private boat ride going into the sunset. Important words to know in Italian when searching online for the perfect tour for you include traghetto (ferry), barca a vela (sailboat), motoscafo (motorboat), and nave da crociera (cruise ship).
Visit Basilica di San Fedele
Basilica di San Fedele is one of the main church buildings in Como. It was built in the 12th century and has a gorgeous rose window. It is close to the main center square of town (Piazza del Duomo).
Visit Piazza del Duomo
Piazza del Duomo is the main center square of town. Many events and festivals are held here in this square. There are lots of bars (aka café/coffee-shops) here with outdoor seating which can be lovely for grabbing an aperitivo or coffee and people-watching. Most of my time in Como was spent here hanging out with friends at a coffee bar drinking hot chocolate.
Visit Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta
Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta is located in the Piazza del Duomo and is worth stopping in. Like visiting most church buildings in Italy, it is free to visit the inside and you will need to have your shoulders covered while inside.
Explore around the Tempio Voltiano
Tempio Voltiano is located next to the lake and is a museum for a famous Italian that invented the electric battery. Even if you don’t visit inside the museum, it is surrounded by a nice garden and surrounding area has great views of the lake.
Walk around Villa Olmo
Villa Olmo is on the outskirts of town and is an incredible villa that is free to visit. It is located along the lake and in addition to seeing the beautiful architecture and gardens, you will get great lake views too. The grounds and villa are able to visit most days of the week, but are sometimes closed for events. Be sure to check the website to make sure they are open to the public during your visit.
Bellagio is a quintessential Lake Como town. It has featured in many movies and several celebrities have homes here. The town located at the point at which the lake divides into two different sides, so the town is almost completely surrounded by water. It is gorgeous in the summer with bright blue water and full of flowery blooms. However, it is quite touristy and crowded.
If visiting Bellagio, I recommend NOT driving and parking somewhere else and taking the ferry across to Bellagio since the crowds can make it very difficult to park. The only way I would recommend driving to Bellagio is if you are staying at a hotel or villa in Bellagio that has private parking available to you.
Things to do in Bellagio
Wander through the town
Bellagio has unique streets that are pedestrian only and stairs leading to the lake. Since Bellagio is such a popular destination, there are a ton of shops, gelaterrias, and restaurants. Most people spend the majority of their visit going throughout the town, shopping and enjoying the view with a gelato in one hand.
Visit Villa Melzi D’Eril
One of the popular villas that people visit around Bellagio (and get their popular Instagram pictures) is the Villa Melzi D’Eril. It has gardens and various viewpoints. For more information including prices and hours, check out their website.
Parchetto della Punta
If you want to go to the very point where the lake splits, you can go to Parchetto della Punta (parchetto means little park). The best way to get there is by walking, although it’s not the most scenic walk. It is located on the northern side of the town and is around a 15 minute walk from the heart of town.
Varenna is a popular town to visit on the eastern side of Lake Como, especially for locals. I find that it can be less crowded than other popular towns along the coast of Lake Como. Varenna is essentially located on a hillside sloping down into the lake, so much of the streets are slanted and there are many cobblestone stairs.
The town is full of cute shops and restaurants. All roads lead downhill to the lake front, so in most of the town, if you are heading downhill you will reach the lake eventually. Get a gelato and sit on the dock or grab an aperitivo at one of the lakefront bars.
Since the town faces towards the west, sunset is gorgeous here. I recommend something to Varenna in the evening so you can spend golden hour in the town and see the sunset over Lake Como. Parking can be difficult here, but we have usually found parking along the main road.
Things to do in Varenna
Walk along the lake
Unlike other towns on this list, the walkways at Varenna do not lead to the beaches or the water, but are mostly raised stone walkways along the edge of the town. They are unique and worth walking through. Some of the path goes under ancient stone arches and has views of the town through different angles. The official name for the walkway is “Greenway dei Patriarchi”.
Visit Villa Monastero
Villa Monastero is a gorgeous villa along Lake Como that is surrounded by botanical gardens. When visiting the villa, you will have nice views of the lake along with the beautiful gardens. Check their website for the latest prices and opening times.
Visit Castello di Vezio
Up on the side of the hill from Varenna, there is the Castello di Vezio. The castle was built in the 12th century and has nice views of the lake from a higher vantage point. The castle can be explored and visited, including the dungeons. Check out their website for the latest hours and prices. We haven’t visited here yet, but hope to on our next time in Varenna!
Explore the town
The southern side of the town is my favorite, with gorgeous stone stairs leading from the top of the town to the lakeside. There are plenty of gelato shops and cute stores. Explore the town full of colorful buildings and with different secret passageways all leading to the blue water of the lake.
If you continue north from Varenna, on the northeast side of Lake Como, you will come upon Colico. It is another cute waterfront town. I find that it’s a less touristy town, but has beautiful views nonetheless. The area of Colico is where the River Adda goes into Lake Como.
The waterfront in Colico is wide and there are many restaurants with water views. It is a good town to visit if you are looking to get away from more of the crowds, especially in the summer. There still will be people out enjoying the lake, but will be more local people rather than giant tour groups.
Things to do in Colico
Eat at a restaurant with waterfront views
There are several restaurants in Colico with views of Lake Como while you are eating. We ate at Hotel Risi and really enjoyed the meal there.
Walk along the waterfront
There is a paved walkway along the shore of the lake that is nice for walking and enjoying the lake views. Also, there is a walking path that goes north that passes several beaches, including Spiagga la Breva and Spiagga Ontano.
Watch the sunset
Colico faces the west, so anywhere on the waterfront in Colico will have great views of the sunset over the water.
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Tips for visiting Lake Como
Visit during the non-peak seasons or at non-peak hours
Since Lake Como is so beautiful, it is very popular. In the summer months, it can be really crowded and busy depending on where you plan on visiting. Some towns, like Como and Bellagio, are towns that all of the tour groups stop at. If you’re wanting to have a pleasant Lake Como experience, I recommend visiting in the early summer or early fall. If your trip is in the summer, try to experience Lake Como earlier in the morning or in the later evening.
Have a plan for parking
As with a lot of places in Italy, finding parking can be difficult. Especially in little towns along Lake Como, parking spots can be difficult to come by. I recommend looking on Google Maps prior to your visit to find possible areas to park before you drive to each town. If you plan on staying in any of these towns, be sure to check with your accommodations that they offer parking.
Wander off the tourist path to find the best restaurants
There are amazing restaurants throughout Italy, and the best ones are the least suspecting. Wander down a small street away from the main areas and you may just find the best meal you’ve ever had.
Hope that this post helps you on your visit to Lake Como! Have you been to Lake Como and have any recommendations?
Let me know your thoughts and questions in the comments below!
Thanks for reading!